Does Catnip Make Dogs High? The Surprising Effects of Catnip on Man’s Best Friend

Catnip is well-known for sending cats into a frenzy, but you may be surprised to find out it has the opposite effect on dogs. Instead of getting hyperactive and playful, dogs tend to become sedated and mellow when exposed to catnip. Seeing a dog suddenly become very calm and relaxed after sniffing some catnip can be quite puzzling for owners used to the herb’s stimulant effects on felines.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at what exactly catnip is, why cats love it so much, and examine what effect exposure to catnip has on our canine companions. You may just learn a new trick for relaxing your anxious or energetic dog.

What is Catnip?

Catnip, with the botanical name Nepeta cataria, is a perennial herb in the mint family (source). It grows wild in some temperate regions, including parts of Europe, Asia, and North America. The plant features small, white and lavender flowers and jagged, heart-shaped leaves that smell faintly of mint.

Catnip’s Effect on Cats

Catnip elicits a euphoric reaction in about two-thirds of cats when they smell it. This is because catnip contains a chemical called nepetalactone that triggers a response when inhaled by cats [1]. Nepetalactone binds to receptors in a cat’s nose and stimulates sensory neurons, which causes the euphoric reaction [2]. When a cat encounters catnip, the effects usually last about 10 minutes and include sniffing, chewing, head shaking, rolling, and rubbing. However, catnip does not have an addictive effect on cats.

a cat rolling in catnip with a blissful expression.

Dog’s Olfactory System

Dogs have an impressive sense of smell, with around 220 million olfactory receptors compared to a human’s measly 5 million [1]. However, dogs have significantly fewer receptors than cats, who boast an estimated 200-300 million [2]. This gives cats a superior ability to detect certain smells that dogs cannot.

One key example is nepetalactone, the chemical compound in catnip that causes euphoric effects in cats. Dogs have far fewer olfactory receptors geared towards detecting nepetalactone. As a result, they generally show little to no reaction when exposed to catnip, unlike the dramatic responses seen in cats. The difference highlights cats’ more highly specialized olfactory system for key compounds like nepetalactone.

Anecdotal Dog Reactions

While the scientific research on dogs and catnip is limited, there are many anecdotal reports of dogs being attracted to and affected by catnip. Some dogs seem fascinated by the smell of catnip and will try to get access to toys, treats, or plants that contain it. According to owners, some dogs even seem to get a “high” from catnip similar to the euphoric reaction seen in cats.

For example, in one video that went viral, an owner filmed their Labrador Retriever after it managed to get into a stash of catnip treats (source). The normally well-behaved dog was hyperactive and uncoordinated, continuously running around the room. The dog’s reaction led many viewers to joke that it was “high” on catnip.

While these anecdotal reports seem to indicate that some dogs enjoy and may be affected by catnip, more research is still needed to understand the science behind these reactions. The responses likely vary between breeds and individual dogs. However, owners should be aware that catnip can pose a risk of overdose if dogs consume large quantities, and should keep it safely away from pets.

Clinical Research

a dog undergoing an fmri brain scan.
There have been limited scientific studies on the effects of catnip on dogs. One study published in ScienceDirect examined the brain responses of dogs when exposed to catnip. Researchers measured the dogs’ brain activity using functional MRI scans. The results showed minimal brain response, indicating catnip has little psychoactive effect on dogs1.

Another study in the Journal of Natural Products analyzed the chemical compounds in catnip. They identified the active chemical nepetalactone which triggers a euphoric response in cats but not in dogs. The researchers concluded that catnip elicits little behavioral response in dogs due to their lack of sensory reaction to nepetalactone2.

While catnip may cause mild relaxation or sedation in some dogs, the scientific evidence indicates it does not produce the same intense high in dogs as is seen in cats. More research is still needed to fully understand catnip’s effects across different dog breeds and ages.

Veterinary Perspectives

While many cat owners are familiar with the effects of catnip on felines, what happens when dogs get exposed to this herb? Veterinarians can provide some insight based on their clinical experience with dogs ingesting catnip.

According to Dr. Jamie Richardson, DVM and Chief of Staff at Small Door Veterinary, it’s very common for dogs to eat, sniff, or otherwise ingest catnip. “We frequently get calls from pet owners saying ‘I think my dog ate some catnip.’ It’s not an emergency, but we do recommend bringing your dog in if they ingest a large amount.”

Dr. Richardson goes on to explain that most dogs show little to no reaction when exposed to catnip. “Cats respond to nepetalactone, the essential oil in catnip that triggers a euphoric response. But dogs lack the same sensitivity, so catnip doesn’t have an effect.” At most, a dog may show mild gastrointestinal upset if they consume a significant quantity.

Similarly, Dr. Miles Faustman at Northview Animal Hospital observes very few responses in dogs exposed to catnip. “Anecdotally, we sometimes see dogs get mildly excited or hyperactive after eating catnip-filled toys. But the reaction tends to be very minor.” He notes only a small percentage of dogs exhibit even a low-level sensitivity to catnip.

Overall, veterinary consensus indicates catnip is very unlikely to harm dogs. But it’s still smart to limit their exposure and avoid letting your dog eat large amounts that could cause an upset stomach.

Risks of Catnip

a dog looking ill after eating catnip.

While catnip is generally considered safe for dogs, there are some potential risks to be aware of. According to, catnip is non-toxic for dogs. It is not known to cause any serious side effects or health concerns when given occasionally and in small amounts. The main risk of catnip for dogs is potential minor stomach upset when eaten in large quantities. Some dogs may experience mild vomiting or diarrhea if they consume a significant amount of catnip. These effects are temporary and not dangerous.

Catnip contains an oil called nepetalactone which can cause mild gastric distress in dogs when consumed in excessive amounts. The general recommendation is to use catnip sparingly as an occasional treat for dogs. Small infrequent doses are unlikely to cause any adverse effects. It’s best to introduce catnip slowly and monitor your dog’s reaction.

Overall, catnip is considered very safe for most dogs. With sensible use, it is unlikely to pose any major health risks. However, each dog may react differently, so catnip should always be given in moderation until you know how your dog will respond.

Safer Alternatives

While catnip can cause an undesirable reaction in some dogs, there are safer alternatives that provide similar engaging smells and sensations without the risk. Here are some catnip-free options to consider:

Anise or fennel – These herbs have a sweet, licorice-like scent that many dogs find intriguing. Anise seeds, extract, or oil can be used in homemade toys or treats. Be sure to introduce these new smells gradually and supervise your dog’s reactions.

Mint – The refreshing smell of mint appeals to dogs without necessarily causing a catnip-like euphoria. Dried mint can be tucked into toys or used to make mint-infused toys and treats.

Citrus – Small amounts of lemon, orange, or other citrus oils can create an engaging scent for dogs. As with any essential oil, dilute before use and monitor your dog’s response.

Catnip-free dog toys – Many manufacturers now make toys designed to mentally stimulate dogs without using catnip. Food puzzle toys, treat-dispensing toys, crinkle paper toys, and toys with multiple components can all provide enrichment without catnip.

assortment of interactive catnip-free dog toys.

Supervision is still recommended until you know how your individual dog will respond to any new scent or toy. But the options above can create fun, safe experiences to entertain even those dogs who react poorly to catnip.


Based on the information provided above, here is a summary of the key findings on catnip’s effect on dogs:

While catnip elicits a euphoric response in cats, most dogs appear unaffected by it. However, some dogs may show mild interest or stimulation after ingesting catnip. The active chemical compound in catnip, nepetalactone, does not seem to produce the same neurophysiological response in dogs as it does in cats.

Clinical studies have found limited evidence that catnip serves as a canine repellent or attractant. Anecdotal reports of dogs reacting to catnip show inconsistent effects. Responses range from hyperactivity and excitability to relaxation, with aggression rarely noted.

Veterinarians advise keeping catnip away from dogs, as ingestion may cause minor gastrointestinal upset. However, serious toxicity is unlikely. If your dog ingests catnip and shows signs of agitation, anxiety, vomiting, diarrhea or other concerning symptoms, consult your vet.

Overall, catnip appears to have minimal effects on dogs. While not necessarily harmful, it’s recommended keeping catnip toys and treats reserved for feline enjoyment only.

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